This boasting will do no good, but I must go on. I will reluctantly tell about visions and revelations from the Lord. I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows. Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body. But I do know that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell. That experience is worth boasting about, but I’m not going to do it. I will boast only about my weaknesses. If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud.Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. –2 Corinthians 12.1-10
All of us go through trials and hard times in our lives. Just because we are Christians does not mean we are exempt from these trials. We all have weak areas in our lives and in our faith. We desire to exchange our weaknesses for strength and power. Unfortunately, there are some teachings that tell us otherwise, of what is called the prosperity gospel. What weaknesses would you like to exchange for strength this morning? Is there any area in your life that you feel like a ninety-pound weakling? Do we get upset with God when He doesn’t remove our weaknesses? Paul tells us in the passage we have read that God prefers the weak as He can do mighty things through them.
In chapter 11, Paul shares with the readers that he has been through a lot of trials. He starts off chapter 12 with a vision that he saw from God. The Corinthians loved visions, revelations and the spectacular. In fact, they seemed to be quite preoccupied with them. Paul said the vision he saw was 14 years earlier which would have been about AD 42-44 before the missionary journeys were recorded. He saw visions of Paradise. He was not able to share all the details with us but it had a huge impact on Paul and his conviction that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”
Paul didn’t believe that the visions were as important as being like Christ, the “suffering servant.” Most people would have boasted about what they saw. They would have been eager to share all the details and let everyone they knew hear about the amazing scenes given to them. However, Paul doesn’t want to himself to seem better than anyone else. He wants Christ to receive the glory. Paul also doesn’t want to give us false hope of a perfect, pain free life as Christians. Whilst we are still on this earth, we will suffer and go through many trials and tribulations. Anyone telling you otherwise is lying and deceiving you.
There is a difference between boasting and a healthy pride. Boasting is bragging about all of our accomplishments, it’s about me, going back to self and putting ourselves before others and God. Boasting puts ourselves above others. Whereas a healthy pride is the feel good sense of a job well done and honour given because of being trustworthy and honest. It’s okay to have a healthy pride of the things we have done right, but not healthy if we are always boasting about our deeds. Paul’s accent was on Christ not himself. What mattered to Paul was God’s work through and in him and the Gospel that he shared. Paul wanted others to know the saving power of Jesus Christ. He didn’t want others to put him on a pedal-stool and forget what God has been and is doing.
Paul was given “a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan”. We don’t know what the thorn in the flesh was, but more than likely was a physical affliction. The “thorn” was a great affliction to Paul and could have been hindering his ministry in sharing the Gospel to others. It was so great Paul begged three times to have it removed. Have you ever touched a thorn? They can really make your fingers sore if they get stuck in you. There are things that really afflict us. Things that hurt, discourage and give us grief. Sometimes like Paul, we beg for the “thorns” to be removed. However, God sometimes refuses to do so. He didn’t remove them from Paul’s life. Paul continued to suffer. In fact, Paul goes on to tell us in verse 10 that he has suffered insults, hardships, persecutions and troubles for Christ.
Why does God sometimes refuse to take them? God wants us to grow spiritually. Sometimes we get too interdependent on ourselves. We think we can do everything, that we are invincible. However, God wants us to be dependent on Him. He wants us to trust Him more and more. I believe we also can learn empathy and compassion towards others when we suffer. What we perceive as our weaknesses, can enhance rather than hinder our effectiveness in ministry. We can have a better understanding of other people’s pain. Compassion is stirred up in our hearts. We lean on God more and more in prayer. Prayer is so powerful, it makes a difference. Paul learnt that God’s power is best displayed in our weaknesses. God alone is worthy of our praise.
No, God doesn’t always remove the problems, but He does give grace in it. God’s grace is sufficient. This sufficiency is declared without any limiting words, and therefore Christ’s grace is sufficient to uphold, strengthen and comfort us; it is sufficient to make our troubles useful in order to enable us to triumph over it. The power of Jesus can only be perfectly revealed in His people by keeping them, and sustaining them when they are in trouble. Who knows the perfection of the strength of God till he sees how God can make us strong?
God’s grace transformed Paul’s perspective. Things that were difficult in ministry, Paul welcomed as it proved the evidence of God’s power in the midst of the struggle. When Paul came to the end of himself, Christ alone was seen. By God’s strength, Paul was spiritually strong.
We may not understand why we have to continue to suffer, but God is in the midst of the suffering. He knows our needs. He knows what we are going through. He carries us through. He may send others to come alongside to encourage us. He desires for us to continue to seek Him through the tough times. Do not give up! Even though it seems like the suffering is lasting for a long time, God will bring us through.
Reflect on this written by Jack Kuhatschek… “Over the years I have learned that my desire to be powerful is really a longing for independence and self-sufficiency. After all, it is frustrating to be weak and dependent on someone else, even if the someone is God Himself… If I really got my wish for absolute strength, unlimited wealth, and total competence, I wouldn’t feel any need for God. I would never experience His faithfulness or discover His sufficient grace. I would never learn to live in humble dependence on Him. I would be tempted to rely on my own power instead of the power of God. In fact, my feelings of pride and self-sufficiency would make me believe I was a god myself.”
Are there any thorns currently in your life making you feel weak and/or humbled? Instead of resenting or resisting the thorn, how can you delight in the affliction as Paul did? How can God’s perspective in your life affect how you feel about yourself? Ask God to grant you His sufficient grace, not necessarily by removing the thorn but by demonstrating His power in the midst of your difficulties.